Border backups bad for food, ag industries

The Windsor Star

Sharon Hill

Just-in-time shipping and reducing border backups isn’t just important for car parts, a new cross border agri-food study has found.

Border delays must be reduced to keep $4 billion of agri-food products a year heading to the States through the Windsor-Detroit crossing, Bill Anderson, director of the University of Windsor’s Cross-Border Institute, said Thursday.

“The whole agri-food industry is a very important industry in this part of Ontario and a lot of what’s produced is exported,” Anderson said. “The border is very important to the whole agri-food industry.”

Unlike manufacturers, the agri-food industry has to deal with perishable products such as greenhouse vegetables and health and safety regulations and inspections, he said.

The institute, which focuses on cross-border transportation issues, had research on the manufacturing industry but lacked information for agriculture so it had an independent research organization called the George Morris Centre complete a study. It was released Thursday.

The study said 75 per cent of all Ontario exports go through the Sarnia-Port Huron or the Windsor-Detroit crossings. More than half of the agri-food products, which are mostly prepared foods, are exported through Windsor.

More than $4.1 billion in agri-food products were exported in 2012 through the Windsor-Detroit border. That was up from the $3.54 billion in 2007.

The amount of exports to the U.S. through Windsor has increased in the last three years but is decreasing at the Sarnia border.

The agriculture and food processing industry was able to increase exports even when the exchange rate was not favourable. “The fact that there’s actually been some growth in exports of agri-food from this region is a very positive thing,” Anderson said.

More agri-food products were imported than exported. About 45 per cent of all the 2012 agri-food imports to Ontario came through the Windsor-Detroit crossing and were worth $6.5 billion.

Anderson, who is a political science professor at the University of Windsor, said he hopes the study and the university can help people in the agriculture industry deal with border issues.

He said large manufacturers would employ people just to handle the border paperwork but smaller farms or processors don’t have that. He said there is interest in harmonizing policies at the border so goods do not have to be inspected twice.

The study looked at the agri-food industry in Essex County, Chatham-Kent and Lambton County and said the two border crossings are critical to Essex County’s greenhouse vegetable industry.

It needs more seamless trade, said George Gilvesy, general manager of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers based in Leamington.

“We have a lot of trade that goes across that border point and anything that can be done to help facilitate the ease and logistics would be of benefit,” Gilvesy said Thursday.

Delays add costs such as the impact on product quality, tying up trucks, and the time and paperwork spent on getting goods across the border, he said.

About 70 per cent of greenhouse vegetables — tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers — grown in Ontario are exported to the States.

According to the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers’ website, the value of the greenhouse vegetable crop in 2011 was $698 million.